Governator snaps back at paparazzi

Damages tripled for celebrity assault

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is putting paparazzi in their place.

Handing his Hollywood friends — and himself — a major victory in the perennial war with the celebrity press, Schwarzenegger has signed a bill into law further cracking down on photographers who assault celebrities in the process of trying to snap a pic.

New California law, which takes effect Jan. 1, triples the amount of damages a celebrity can sue a photographer for, as well as making employers liable for the first time. Shutterbugs also could have to fork over any profits they make from the offending pictures as well as pay punitive damages.

Law will also make employers legally responsible for their photographers and subject to damages as well, a daunting prospect for the management and ownership of print media.

Former Screen Actors Guild president Melissa Gilbert and her newly elected successor, Alan Rosenberg, worked together in lobbying for the bill after three separate incidents in recent months involving aggressive paparazzi and actresses Lindsay Lohan, Scarlett Johansson and Reese Witherspoon.

“This is a victory for guild members who have been terrorized by unprofessional paparazzi,” Rosenberg said.

Johansson, Witherspoon and actor Nick Lachey joined Rosenberg and Gilbert in signing a letter urging Schwarzenegger to sign the bill.

“While the vast majority of photographers are professional and courteous, some paparazzi use extreme tactics that result in intimidating situations and frightening actions. As an actor, and as our governor, you are no stranger to paparazzi who threaten your safety, and the safety of those around you,” the group wrote on Wednesday.

The governator was involved in an accident in 1998 after photographers surrounded his vehicle as he and his wife, Maria Shriver, picked up one of their children from day care.

Incident came just one week after Schwarzenegger underwent open-heart surgery, with Schwarzenegger later testifying that he thought it was a kidnapping attempt. Both photographers were convicted of misdemeanor false imprisonment and one of reckless driving.

In late August, Johansson was pursued by paparazzi in four different SUVs into a parking lot at Disneyland. In trying to get away from the vehicles, she clipped another car carrying a woman and her children. She said the SUVs then surrounded hers, with the photographers jumping out of the cars, cameras ready.

And in May, photographer Galo Ramirez was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon after ramming his van into Lohan’s Mercedes Benz, causing the actress to suffer cuts and bruises.

One month earlier, Witherspoon said her vehicle, too, was boxed in by paparazzi after several cars chased her from the gym to home.

“This bill hits the paparazzi where it hurts — the wallet. Money is their motivation, so taking away their money will be the solution,” said Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando), who sponsored the get-tough measure.

But the California Newspaper Assn. opposed the measure, saying the state’s current antipaparazzi law was already stringent enough. That law creates civil liability for “physical” and “constructive” invasions of privacy by photographers.

California became the first state in the nation to enact such an antipaparazzi law following the death of Princess Diana, whose vehicle crashed after a high-speed chase with photographers.

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